Daniel Holtzclaw verdict is a call to action: Black women’s lives matter

The verdict is not so much a cause for celebration as much as a call to action to find the other Daniel Holtzclaws. The work is not done...


That is a suitable reaction to every aspect of the Daniel Holtzclaw case.

The former Oklahoma City police officer stood trial for 36 charges related to the rape and sexual assault of 13 black women while he was on duty.

A sexual predator in uniform is horrific enough on its own — but prosecutors in the case argued that Holtzclaw (who is white and Asian) specifically sought out only black women in an economically distressed area as his victims. They argued Holtzclaw believed these women to be a vulnerable population and therefore unlikely to press charges against him.

After four days of deliberation, an all-white jury added to the wow factor with a guilty verdict on 18 of the 36 charges and recommended a sentence of 236 years. The surprise comes not from the fact that Hotlzclaw was found guilty of only half of the charges, but rather that he was found guilty at all.

Even though Holtzclaw’s victims testified in court about their disturbing experiences with him and GPS data corroborated their claims, a preponderance of evidence does not always lead to a guilty verdict when it comes to police officers, especially when the victim is a person of color.

The recent acquittal of a Delaware police officer who brutally kicked a kneeling, unarmed suspect in the face on camera is an example of this.

Holtzclaw used fear and intimidation (not to mention his sheer physical presence at 6’1 and 245 pounds) to force himself upon the women and ensure their silence. Who would believe a black woman who smokes crack? Who would believe a 17-year-old black girl? Who would believe any black woman or girl over the word of a white police officer?

Holtzclaw was banking on that. He promised to make warrants disappear, not make arrests and otherwise wield his shield in exchange for sexually brutalizing the women not only in the initial encounters but in subsequent interactions as well. These women lived in constant fear of him.

Holtzclaw was a calculating, manipulative predator who spent his time in uniform terrorizing black women. The use, abuse and selective invisibility of black women is nothing new and can be seen in academia, the music industry, corporate America and in the news. (Had Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of white girls in France instead of black girls in Nigeria, there is no doubt that the media and military response would have been markedly different.)

We, black women, are often mined for our ideas, bodies, creativity and overall greatness. #BlackGirlsAreMagic, afterall. But in the past and present, we do not get our just due, and we often do not get to exercise our basic right as human beings to be recognized as such.

Black women’s lives matter.

The fact that Holtzclaw will undoubtedly spend the rest of his life in prison for violating black women is a step in the right direction in terms of recognizing the humanity of black women. Now, if we could get to a place were Holtzclaw’s modus operandi of using race, class and gender to systemically oppress vulnerable populations becomes unviable, then we have made real progress in the world.

Holtzclaw rocked and sobbed on his 29th birthday as he heard the jury’s verdict and his fate was sealed.

No one cares about Holtzclaw’s tears or his newfound feelings. He certainly didn’t have any when he was forcing himself onto and into his victims. The verdict is not so much a cause for celebration as much as a call to action to find the other Holtzclaws.

The work is not done.

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.